Monday, February 8, 2016

Musical Retrospective: Everything But the Girl Part 2

The big change on both Language of Life and Worldwide was an introduction of a more electronic sound.  The big problem with the two albums is that they both sound a bit un-energetic.   The songs were still there, but there is a lack of energy on these two albums that has always made them the two lesser albums of the groups discography.  As I said in Part 1 these two albums in many ways continued the sound of what was found on Idlewild and so for the first time the band seemed to have a set sound.

In 1994 they would have their biggest change yet.  The album Amplified Heart came out that year and in many ways continued the sound they had been building upon.  The difference with this album right off the bat is that it feels a bit more edgy.  It has that old emotion of their early stuff, something which I think got rekindled as they did their Acoustic tour.  This alone makes it stand out from their previous two albums.  Then something happened that no one was expecting.  A dance mix version of "Missing" became a hit, and overnight Everything But the Girl had a new sound.  The roots of the sound are there in the album version, but with the boom of the dance version everything changed.

Amplified Heart for an Everything But the Girl fan is a very important album for a few reasons. First and foremost they seemed to recapture the angst and energy that helped make their early stuff so much fun and to have such an emotional grab. Second they seemed to finally figure out how to blend their acoustic and electronic sounds in a way that worked. Thirdly it would be the last mostly acoustic album they would do as a group.

In 1996 they would release Walking Wounded and it was a completely different sound than anything they had done before. Here they were fully embracing the electronic sound that had been so popularized by bands like Massive Attack. In fact Tracey Thorn sang on the Massive Attack 1994 album Protection. Walking Wounded is a sparse album that does a great job of turning what are essentially dance beats into emotional tracks that perfectly support Thorn's singing and the groups lyrics.

It should be noted here that the band's ability to write good songs still continued. As good bands do they were now writing about things that made sense to their age of now 34. Let's take a look at two songs and you'll see what I mean.

"Frost and Fire" was on their first album, so Tracey Thorn was 22 when this song was released. It's a song about a girl looking at her mother and in a fairly critical way. Here is the first verse.
You take the name of a man you hardly know
and then you grow up and that name has to go
married with kids and they don't want to know
about the dreams you had let go
You're still waiting for a knight in shining armour
to steal you against your will
and while you're waiting and doing no harm
you know there's plenty of time to kill
when you say you wouldn't change a day
makes me wonder where I went astray
happy with things that leave me tired we're as unlike as Frost and Fire

I've always loved this song. I have to say now that I'm much past 22 when I think of this song it reminds me so much of being that age. There is such a cockiness to being 22. Compare that to the song "Mirrorball." We are 12 years later and now we have a song that could essentially be a song sung by the mother in the "Frost and Fire." Here are the first two verses.

You never knew the teenage me and
You wouldn't believe the things you didn't see,
Some pretty, some ugly.
And the lovely mirrorball reflected back them all
Every triumph, every fight, under disco light.

Come on girl, it's alright.
Come on girl, it's alright now.
Come on girl, it's gonna be alright now.

Well I guess some boys adored me
But the one I loved ignored me,
And caused me in the end to murder my best friend.

And though I got her letter, it never did get better,
And I got out of my head.
Then I joined a band instead.

Come on girl, it's alright.
Come on girl, it's alright now.
Come on girl, it's gonna be alright now.

I've always liked Thorn as a songwriter and I think these two songs show very well the natural growth of her as a writer reflecting her as a person.

Everything But the Girl would come out with one more album in 1999 called Temperamental.  With this album the band went fully into the dance club and it's reflected in the songs as well.  It has a much more upbeat feel to it than Walking Wounded.

That was 17 years ago and at the time I just assumed Everything But the Girl would keep putting out albums.  But Ben went on to run a record label and Tracey took a lot of time off.  She's now done a few solo albums, as has Ben, and I keep hoping that someday they will unite again to do at least one more album.

But no matter they have a great catalog that is diverse and can cover any mood you find yourself in.


  1. This series has been great.

    I just want to add that I genuinely enjoy Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt's Twitter banter.

    Here's Ben Watt's current release, by the way.

    1. That filmmaker could have also used this song,, from Janis Ian.